Hi all. Am writing from a hotel in Luxor this is nicer than I expected it to be. They offer internet, which is great, but it happens to be the one computer behind the front desk, so that’s where I’m sitting now, with keyboard in my lap.
I took a 2-day cruise from Aswan to Luxor on the M/S Renaissance, which is a 5 star cruiser, but they are all mostly 5-star cruisers. Within the 5-star grouping, I suspect this was the lower end. But it was nice in many ways. rooms were very nice as were the bathrooms and showers. the food was edible, but nothing exciting. It seems most people got sick, but i think that’s pretty common on cruises. I can feel a cold coming on, but no stomach ills or anything.
Did have a few adventures though…
Let me back up a bit by saying I did something that may have been stupid and something all the guidebooks recommend against doing. I can’t really offer up a good excuse for why I did this, other than extreme tiredness. When I arrived at the hostel in Cairo from Entebbe I was very tired. I had gotten up at 1:30 to make the flight and even though I’d slept, I was still not at my sharpest. When I got to the hostel, the people were super nice (and in hindsight I still think it is a great hostel and will write a review later) and asked what my plans were. When I said i didn’t have any, they pretty much put together a trip for me, gave me a very good price, and I said OK.
You should never book trips through small hotels or hostels in Egypt. Everyone tells you. Now, let me qualify that nothing bad has happened. I’ve stayed at pretty nice places and I love having someone meet me everywhere and take me to the next place without me needing to figure things out (that alone is worth the price of pre-booking if you’re a female traveling by yourself who doesn’t speak arabic!). The negative of doing this is you pay more (granted, we’re probably talking the equivalent of $10-15 USD more per day in my case) and you don’t have much control to change things or have a good contact to call if there are problems. They are putting me in nice-ish hotels which is good, but then you lose the ‘meet people’ quality you get in cheap hostels, which is much of what I’m looking for. But that was really my own fault for not thinking of that. Anyway, fortunately things on that front have turned out ok because i met a bunch of people (some I already knew) who are traveling everyone on nearly the same schedule as me.
The first part of trip, flying to Abu Simbel and then going to aswan was very easy. The hotel in Aswan was OK. Room was very clean, good bathroom, view of the nile, strong air conditioning, excellent internet. But terrible food and the air conditioning made a loud slamming noise every time it turned off, which did not make for a restful night. I was told I”d be taken to the boat on Monday morning and we’d leave that day. turned out i was taken to the boat monday morning, and we leave tuesday. I was pretty pissed b/c I didn’t really want to spend the day sitting on a boat, but believe me, you do everything you need to do and see in Aswan in 1 day and I’d been there a day and a half already.
But that turned out fine, as chilling on the boat by the pool and in my a/c room was just dandy. In part because at lunch I run into P and M, the canadian honeymooning couple I met at my hostel in cairo. We hung out together a lot and have much the same schedule for the next couple of weeks so will try to travel in tandem as much as possible. Even though traveling alone doesn’t bother me, it’s nice to have familiar faces to see at mealtimes.
Also on the cruise I meet B, a Stanford undergrad from Houston, who is also traveling alone. He’s nice, but VERY clingy and at times you sort of want to ditch him to get away. He hasn’t gotten the zen of traveling alone yet. Most of the people on the boat were Danish, but they speak very good English. Specifically hung out with M who is studying to be a nurse and A who is studying agriculture. We met in the pool on the boat rooftop (where I thought my thermometer broke when it read 130 degrees, but it seems to be functioning correctly otherwise, so I think that may actually have been right!) and after A started talking I asked if she was Irish, and she said no, Danish. She talked some more and I said, “wow, you really don’t have a danish accent, you really sound Irish.” She said that was odd because she had just spent a year in Scotland. Duh. I conceeded that fine, she sounded scottish, not irish! She was really nice to hang out with.
So, armed with a new passel for friends, the cruise was a lot of fun. On the second day we met at 6:45 am to see Kom Ombo (you see everything in the morning before it gets too hot), one of the 2 big temples on the way to Luxor from Aswan. It turns out my tour company (whatever that may be) is the same as 5 Chinese guests on the cruise, so we end up doing a bunch of stuff together. They were very nice and spoke English well. They had just come from 6 weeks in Sudan, working for the UN on a ‘temporary assignment’. I only found out what 2 of them do, one is in the chinese military the other is a police officer. I am quite curious about what they are REALLY doing in Sudan “working for the UN”. You can read elsewhere about the politics of China, Sudan, and the whole Darfur thing. But, they were very nice to me.
The Kom Ombo tour went without a hitch, and i’ll post pictures later (I already have temple burn-out and haven’t even seen anything in luxor yet!). But the later visit to Edfu was quite a trip!
At Edfu, the boat only docks for 2 hours and they tell you to be back on the boat by 1:30 or they leave without you (I doubt they do, but they get quite adamant about telling you that). Our guide was nowhere to be found (a different one from Kom Ombo earlier that day). Everyone else on the boat had left promtly at 11:45 with their guides, but ours didn’t show until after 12 and then toodled about the lobby for a bit. I put on my “pissy american” stance and he kept apologizing and saying he was told to meet us at 12. We said we didn’t care why he was late, so long as he got us back on time.
So, it turns out you need to drive to the site, in horse-drawn carriages. So we split in 2 groups, get to the site, and the guide wanders along talking to a friend, not paying us anymind. Eventually we get to a point where he says goodbye to his friend and then can’t figure out where everyone is (the chinese had scattered to take photos while he chatted about ignoring us). On the carriage ride over he asked one of the chinese guys why I was so mad and he totally had my back by saying “well, because you were so late and we are afraid of missing the boat back”. I was really glad because if they hadn’t backed me up, I would have looked like a total hag. I even got more hag-like when he said ‘you seem agitated why don’t you sit down?’ and I was all “how dare you insult me, I don’t need to sit down, I just need you to give us the tour you are already late giving us” (I was kind of having fun, actually 8-).
Anyway, the guide gets annoyed everyone is far away and makes a half-hearted attept to gather us together. Having no success I herd everyone up (I explain the concept of “Den Mother” to the chinese guys) and this guide proceeds to give us the most LONG WINDED tour you have ever heard. Instead of saying ‘this picture shows X, Y, and Z” he would spend about 4 minutes taking what could have been said in 30 seconds. He also kept saying “and why does this show it this way?” and wait for an answer. We’re like, “dude, just tell us the freaking answer already.” He also when on a 10 minute segue about how he himself saw the great falcon flying from the temple at dawn, yadda yadda, and the chinese guys are like “buddy, we got 10 minutes to get back tothe boat, are you going to finish yet?”. As we walk out he keeps saying “oh, one more thing” and stops about 5 times. Finally, we’re getting back in the carriages and he says “you need to pay 20 pounds each for the carriage” and we’re all like, no way, we paid in advance. He wouldn’t let the carriages go and we were afraid of missing the boat.
I call my contact and put him on the phone with the guide. THey yell at each other in arabic, but later I realize the guide hadn’t been telling him the same thing he was telling us. He lets us get in the carriage (he gets into the same carriage as me and 2 of the chinese guys this time) so we can argue some more with my contact on the phone. My contact started to get pissy with me saying “all you need to pay is tip” and “I say, yeah, i know that, but this guy is saying i need to pay a 20 pound fee…” anyway, the guy is now saying “I misunderstood” I need to pay 5 pounds (which is less than I would have paid him in tip, anyway) which I say fine, but am pissed because he is still making it a fee rather than as if we pretend it is a tip. After i pay he turns to the chinese guy and says “now you need to pay” and the chinese guy says “you need to talk to the guy in the other carriage” (he’s no dummy!).
WHen we get to the boat I dash in to make sure the boat doesn’t leave without the chinese guys while they argue it out with the guide. I think they end up also paying 5 pounds just to get him away. The irony is, we all would have tipped at least 10 or 15 pounds between the guide and the drivers so they ended up getting much less than if they hadn’t tried to extort us. Plus, they don’t think about the long term. I’ve read on so many internet boards of people who refuse to go back to Egypt because of the tipping hassles and extortions. They’d have way more success if they weren’t such @$$holes. And believe, they are complete and udder @$$holes!!!
I tell you, I was really glad to have the chinese military behind me on this one ! But, overall while it was a pain, I never felt unsafe or anything like that. It’s just part of what it means to travel in Egypt.
The rest of the cruise was uneventful. I spent much of the time just watching the gorgeous scenery or sitting in the pool, or hanging out on the roofdeck in the evening with everyone I’d met. Other than the fact that I think I’m coming down with a cold, I can’t complain…